Undoing Apartheid, Becoming Children: Writing the Child in South African Literature
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This thesis examines the trope of the child in South African literature from the early years of apartheid to the contemporary moment. The chapters focus on some of the most established and prolific authors in South African literary history and roughly follow a chronological sequence: autobiographies by the exiled Drum writers (Es’kia Mphahlele and Bloke Modisane) in the early 1960s; Nadine Gordimer’s writing during the apartheid era; confessional novels by Afrikaans-speaking authors (Mark Behr and Michiel Heyns) in the transitional decade; and J. M. Coetzee’s late and post apartheid works. I argue that, while writing from diverse historical and political positions in relation to South Africa’s literary culture, these authors are all in one way or another able to articulate their subjectivities—with their underlying ambiguities, contradictions, and negations—by imagining themselves as the child or/and through childhood. My analyses of the works under discussion attend to the subversive and transformative potential of, and the critical energies embedded in the trope of the child, by investigating narrative reconfigurations of temporality and space. Firstly, I will be looking at the ways in which the images, structures, and aesthetics making up the imaginings of the child disrupt a linear temporality and serve as critique of a teleological historiography of political emancipation and the liberation struggle. Secondly, I will pay attention to the spatial relations with which representations of the child are bound up: between the country and the city, black townships and white suburbs, the home and the street. By attending to specific transgressions and reorderings of these spatial relations, my reading also explores the ways in which spatial underpinnings and ideological boundaries of national identities are contested, negotiated, and restructured by forces of the transnational, the diasporic, and the global around the figure of the child.
- Theses